We've Become a Sport of Enablers

I've been reading much of what has been written of late on the Doug O'Neill situation, and I am (as usual) confused.

Steve Haskin wrote a piece in the Bloodhorse, pretty much laying much of the blame on "bad press" on the California Horse Racing Board; even going so far as to question the size of the fine and suspension and how it was not good for racing:
  • But we do, however, question the timing of it and to some degree even the length of it. Knowing prior to the ruling that O’Neill did nothing intentional and did not milkshake the horse, the Board still went ahead and issued their ruling at this time, fully aware that they would be adding fuel to an already growing media fire. Yet another mind-boggling move for the good of racing, right? 
Doug O'Neill, according to Ray Paulick, has received 12 positive tests since 2005 - given to him in four separate states -  and the above was his fourth TCO2 overage. I, like Paulick, looked to find someone in North American racing who has ever received four TCO2 positives and I found none. As far as I can tell, Doug holds the record.

The only parallel I can find with that kind of track record was all the way back in 2004, with Canadian trainer Bill Robinson. After receiving his second TCO2 (and about his 8th violation overall) the hammer came down. He was suspended for five years and given a $100,000 fine by the ORC. He appealed, but a funny thing happened. The Woodbine Entertainment Group said he was not racing at their track while under appeal. They invoked private property rights and went to the wall - the Woodbine CEO David Willmott even said he'd go to the Supreme Court if he had to -  to stop him from entering. This was all done in the same year Robinson was awarded an O'Brien Award as Canada's leading trainer.

The apologists were out in full force then too: The penalty was too harsh, it puts a black eye on racing, he's "a nice guy", and on and on. But the authorities stood firm - seven or eight time offenders were not going to hold this sport hostage. It's now 2012, and Robinson has long served his time. He has still never had an entry at the Woodbine Entertainment Group racetracks, and likely never will.

I am sure a lot of you agree with Woodbine's stance back then, and don't have the foggiest why people like Haskin are more worried about bad press for a 45 day suspension than a repeat offender himself. I am sure you've been on twitter where some people are telling you that you're not a real fan of racing if you are not cheering for I'll Have Another in the Belmont. I am sure you've been told breakdowns at racetracks are Joe Drape's fault. I am sure you've been told that NYRA's problems are all the result of a bad state wagering board, that the TOC raising takeout was good for the game and they should get a pass, that slots tracks writing deals for purses only is "the way it is", and on and on and on.

Shut up and cheer. Shut up and buy horses. Shut up and bet.

When William Rhoden writes in the New York Times like he did today.....
  • Racing still lacks accountability. The problem that existed in 2008 exists today: racing is a sprawling, disjointed industry with no central leadership. It is untamed and will remain so until the federal government forces this renegade industry to establish a central governing body. Until then, the blood sport will continue to be the province of a handful of powerful people — others in the industry whom Porter calls self-appointed commissioners — who resist uniform, meaningful reform. 
..... he's only half right. Yes we need strong leadership and a governing body. But to have accountability in racing, we have to have this sports' fans and participants be there to hold people accountable.  When someone makes bad policy or does something wrong, we should fix it, not make excuses for it.

Putting lipstick on a pig, someone once said, you still have a pig. Pigs tend to get slaughtered.

We have a lot of problems in racing that need fixing. But we can't fix problems if people constantly apologize for them. We've become a sport of enablers, and that is likely our greatest downfall.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

Brett Coffey said...

This case just makes me really angry and I find it hard to believe why Haskin has taken the angle he has taken.

Of course the California Horse Racing Board should have dealt with it earlier, however there is no reason why they should have delayed there finding any longer either.

I also find it wrong that O'Neill doesn't have to start his suspension until July 1st. What other sport allows this?


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